Bounce Rate: Here's what you need to know.

If you've ever spent any time on the internet looking for advice on how to manage your website, chances are you've come across the term "bounce rate". While it is possible to infer what a bounce rate is just by looking at the word "bounce", understanding what it means for your marketing and your business is a bit trickier.


Let's have a look at what your bounce rate means, how to interpret your data, what the benchmarks are, what you can do to help achieve the optimal bounce rate for your kind of website, and why you should care about your bounce rate.



What is the technical definition of a bounce rate?

Before we start our discussion on what a bounce rate is, I need to explain another bit of jargon first - what a "session" means in terms of your website data. A session is basically the group name for everything your visitor does between entering and exiting your website. If John goes to your home page, clicks on your services page, then clicks on your blog page, and then leaves your website, he interacted with your website twice (clicking on "services" and "blog") across three pages (home, services, and blog) during his session. As part of your data, you can also see how long John's session was, the average number of pages that visitors view per session, the average number of sessions each visitor has for the month (because one visitor can go to your website more than once), etc. All this information can be used to infer patterns of visitor behaviour that help you create a more successful website and ideal website experience. But for the purposes of this piece, we are only concerned with the fact that a session is all of your visitor's activities between entering and exiting your website.


Now, let's look at your bounce rate. Your bounce rate is the percentage of visitors that leave your web page without engaging with your web page in any trackable or measurable way during a session. This could be clicking on an image, clicking on a link, completing a form, etc. For example, a visitor viewed your home page and then left your website without doing anything on the page - there was no activity that could be recorded during that session. No activity = bounce. Even if they scroll up and down the page, it still counts as a bounce.


Your bounce rate should not be confused with your exit rate. Where your bounce rate is defined as a visitor who landed on a page and left your website without interacting with that page, your exit rate is the percentage of visitors that exit a page where the page they exited from was not the one they landed on when accessing your website. For example, James clicked on a link in your newsletter and was directed to the product page for your new range of braai aprons, once the page loaded fully, James scrolled down and clicked on the image of rugby-branded mitts to explore the range of mitts on sale. He then decided that he needs more time to think about it, and left your website. In this scenario, James leaving your website without interacting with the page about rugby-branded mitts counts ONLY as an exit and NOT as a bounce, because James did not enter your website (start his session) on the mitts page and he interacted with your website at other points in his session.


Why should I care about my bounce rate?

First of all, your website bounce rate gives search engines an idea of the kind of customer experience that your site offers and the relevancy of your site in terms of certain keywords. This was implemented back in 2021 and is called the Page Experience Algorithm update. This helps search engines to suggest pages to users that offer a better user experience and are deemed more likely to give the user the information they need. Your bounce rate isn’t the only metric that this algorithm looks at, but it does have a big impact on the way that search engines see your website. Naturally, you want to rank higher when someone searches for something related to what you offer, so it makes sense to do what you can to help search engines see your website as worth a visit.


Secondly, while the bounce rate of your website, in general, is good to know, the real benefit of this data can be found in reviewing the bounce rate of specific pages, especially those pages that encourage engagement. This helps build a picture of how visitors interact with and internalize your content. You can use this information to build a user experience that better serves the goals of your website and your business. If, for example, you find out that your new product page has a higher than usual bounce rate, there are certain metrics that you can look at in conjunction with your bounce rate data to form an idea of why this happens. You can then take a series of actions to better understand why your product page is not performing well and make the necessary changes to better the experience that users have on the page, ultimately leading to more sales.


What's more, your bounce rate can also help you spot technical errors on your website and assist in understanding if your paid advertising is serving your business as it should be. We'll discuss this in more detail later in the piece.


Where can I see my bounce rate?

Your bounce rate is displayed as a percentage in your analytics data. This percentage effectively tells us of all the visitors who enter your website by landing on that page, what percentage of them did not engage with the page before leaving the website. Again, this does not mean that they did not read what was on the page. This is why the purpose of your page is so important.


There's actually a formula that you can use to calculate your bounce rate. You divide the number of single-page sessions by the total number of sessions on your website or page. You can do this because a single-page session is considered a session where the visitor looked at one page only and left without interacting with anything on the page.


Or you can also just look at your analytics report.


For those of you who outsource your website management, you can ask for your monthly website activity report to include your bounce rate for the pages that you feel are important as well as for your website as a whole. If you manage your website yourself, you can add a Google Analytics tag to your website and review your website data via Google Analytics. It really is very easy to do as Google offers step-by-step instructions. (However, if you don't feel comfortable doing this yourself, you are welcome to get in touch.) Your bounce rate is generally displayed on your Google Analytics Home dashboard, but to delve deeper into the data per page, click on Behaviour > Site Content > All Pages. Here you will see a list of the pages on your site and your bounce rate will generally be in the 6th column of the table.


What should my bounce rate be?

The bounce rate you should be aiming for generally depends on your industry, the kind of website you have, and the type of page you are looking at. What's more, different digital marketing reports offer different figures and recommended bounce rates also tend to change from one year to the next.


The current trend indicates that you should aim for a bounce rate that is lower than 70% with other sources of information recommending not going above 40%. In general, bounce rates from visitors using their mobile phones tend to be higher across all industries (at an average of 51%) than visitors using desktops (at an average of 43%). These are averages from data across all industries. For a better understanding of trends for specific industries and types of websites, data would indicate the following:

  • Below 45% for e-commerce and retail websites

  • Below 55% for B2B websites

  • Below 55% for lead generation websites

  • Below 60% for non-e-commerce content websites

  • Below 90% for landing pages

  • Below 90% for dictionaries, portals, blogs and general news and events websites

[Source: https://www.customedialabs.com/blog/bounce-rates/]


It is important, however, to understand that not all websites fit into a specific mould. Some websites include both e-commerce elements and landing pages that you use for specific campaigns. You could make use of a blog on your website to showcase your work and also be a business-to-business (B2B) company. See how that can create some confusion when trying to interpret if your website is performing effectively or not? This is addressed by looking at page-specific bounce rates. Your blog pages will generally have a higher bounce rate than your product pages, your landing pages will differ from your media pages, and your home page will differ from your services page.


Now, you could read through all this data and information and have one of three responses. One, your website could be doing really well in terms of the industry average and you sit back and relax. Two, your website could be performing worse than the industry average and you freak out. Or three, you feel even more confused. I want to encourage you to avoid looking at your bounce rate as a measure or figure you need to achieve, but rather look at it as a way of understanding how visitors are using your website and where you can make changes to set your website up in such a way that it helps you achieve your business goals. So, while there are benchmarking figures that were derived by looking at existing industry averages, just because your e-commerce website has a bounce rate of 30% doesn't necessarily mean that your website is going to help you achieve your business goals.


Let's look at how you can use your bounce rate as a way of understanding how visitors use your website and what you can do with this information.


Please note: The above includes some jargon that I know might create some uncertainty about which type of website yours falls under. If you do need some direction in this regard, please get in touch.


How do I interpret the data about my bounce rate?

It’s imperative to understand that your bounce rate doesn’t necessarily mean that you have an ineffective website. Your visitor could have gone to your website to look for your address, found the information in your website footer, and then left. Or bookmarked your page on how to complete the 5-step skincare routine with your new range of beauty products, clicked on the bookmark, completed the routine, and left. The reason why your visitor comes to your website impacts your bounce rate, which is why you should always consider your bounce rate in relation to other metrics and the purpose of the page that you are assessing.


Bounce Rate and Session Duration

In this instance, you are ideally aiming for a situation where your average session duration is high irrespective of your bounce rate. This kind of thinking is generally reserved for pages that contain a lot of information and few opportunities for your visitor to interact with your page. A great example would be a blog page, a recipe page, a case study page, or a page that explains your services in more detail. It's fine if your bounce rate is high on these pages because the purpose of the page is not for the user to interact with it, but to consume information. Your visitor accessed your page, spent enough time on the site to consume the information they were looking for and that you wanted them to read, and then left.


Bounce Rate and Conversion

A conversion is defined as when a visitor completed the action you intended for them to complete on your page. For example, a visitor who submitted their details in your contact form or a visitor who placed a product item in their cart. You decide on what you consider a conversion for your page and then set your conversion tracking in Google Analytics. Your analytics data will then report on both your bounce rate and your conversions. Now, the nature of conversions tends to impact your bounce rate because for a visitor to be considered as having completed the action you intended for them on the page, they would have to interact with your page. So, why look at bounce rates and conversions? Shouldn't we just look at conversions? Aren't they more important than bounce rate? While I would agree with that, looking at your bounce rate while analysing your conversion data will help you understand why your conversion rate is the way it is. A high conversion rate with a low bounce rate is ideal, but what if you have a low bounce rate and a low conversion rate? That would indicate that your visitor is interacting with your page but not completing the action you intended for them. If your conversion is set as submitting a contact form, then a low bounce rate with a low conversion rate could indicate an issue with the way in which the form is set up. You could also consider your time on the page in this instance as well. A high average time on the page, coupled with a low conversion rate, and a high bounce rate could indicate a need for you to revisit your page content. Are your instructions clear? Are you adding too many call-to-actions (CTAs) to your page? Is there too much information on your page?


Bounce Rate and Device Type

This is a clear user experience situation. While, as mentioned above, it is generally accepted that certain devices have a higher bounce rate than others, you need to get a clear understanding of the device that most visitors use and optimise for that. Here's a more specific example to better explain the point that I am trying to make. You look at your analytics and see that 72% of your monthly website traffic comes from mobile devices. You look at your bounce rate for mobile devices and see that it is 20% higher than desktops. What would be the next step? Do you overhaul your entire website to better the mobile device user experience? Nope. While you could do that, the nature of a small business includes limited resources so what you do next should take that into account. Remember how we said that your data per page is more valuable than your website data overall? First, consider which pages are the most important for your business goals, then review their audience devices per page, next review the bounce rates per page and per device, and optimise those pages for the device that most of the visitors of that page use where necessary. You might find that your specific page has an adequate bounce rate for the device that most visitors use to view that page, irrespective of the bounce rate for the device as reported for your website as a whole.


Bounce Rate, Visitor Type, and Audience Acquisition

This is one of the most straightforward ways of seeing if your paid advertising audience segmentation is on point or if you need to revisit your audience criteria. There are other useful inferences that can be made from your visitor type and audience acquisition data. Understanding, for example, that your highest converting visitors come from your social media channels helps you to get a better idea of where to invest your marketing budget or which channel to spend your time on developing. Understanding that your new visitors have a short session duration on a blog page gives you better direction in terms of user experience. It might be worth reconsidering the way in which your blog posts are structured to keep them on the page for longer. While useful to know and definitely worth further discussion, for this piece we are only concerned with this data as they relate to your bounce rate. Again, overall website data is useful but to really know where to start, look at your page-specific data first.


You will generally find that new visitors to your website have a higher bounce rate than returning visitors. This goes back to the sales funnel and understanding what kind of information different visitors are looking for as they move through the funnel. When it comes to analysing the bounce rate of your new visitors, it's important to consider where your visitors come from (i.e. your audience acquisition). Oftentimes, you will see an increase in your bounce rate (both page-specific and by virtue of the way in which your general website bounce rate is calculated, your general website bounce rate as well) when you have paid advertising campaigns running. This is due to users clicking on your advertisement who have no prior knowledge of your brand. While a slight increase is expected, a big jump in your data should be considered a red flag. This could be an indication of your advertisement being targeted at an incorrect audience (i.e. your audience segmentation needs revisiting) or your advert copy is misleading, causing users to click on your advert expecting something different.


As you can see from the discussion above, interpreting your bounce rate data is not about understanding IF people interact with your page and your website, it's about understanding HOW your visitors use your website and then using that information to make the necessary changes to better position your website to help you achieve your business goals.


Before we move on to the next section, let me just comment on your exit rate quickly. Knowing the exit rate for the different pages on your website is also important because your exit rate tells you which page visitors are viewing when they leave your website. You can then add elements to that page to make sure your visitor has seen what they needed to see before leaving. Let’s say you have a “services” page on your website that lists the services that you offer but gives no further explanation of what they are or how they solve your customer problem statement. You see that this page has a high exit rate and realize that visitors don’t really know what it is that you do because they never explore your website on a deeper level where all of the really good and effective content is displayed. So, what should you do? Bring your message to your visitor. Make sure that what they need to see is on the page they visit.


Something you can also try is called an exit intent pop-up. At the risk of getting too technical, it’s a little square that appears on the screen when your visitor’s mouse moves off of your website. You can change the message on the square and many e-commerce sites opt for offering a discount voucher to the visitor in exchange for their email address.


Overall, you don’t need to worry about lowering your exit rate as much as you do your bounce rate, you just need to make sure that you use the data you have to inform website changes that will help you reach your business goals.


How can I better my website bounce rate?

1. Make sure your page loads quickly.

There are few things more frustrating for visitors than having to wait for your page to load. It might seem attractive to include elaborate moving graphics, videos, and images, but if they are going to negatively affect the load time of your page, leave them out!


Other elements that you need to think about in terms of your page load speed are:

  • the sizes of the images that you use. Naturally, the smaller the better, but not too small that it looks fuzzy.

  • where your videos are hosted. While it's nice to have your videos on your website, you don't have to store them on your website. Opt for a YouTube player and load the video to YouTube instead.

  • how many plug-ins you have on your site. Plug-ins are necessary for certain functionalities (like the exit intent pop-up), but make sure to only add the ones you actually need and not just because you think they're cool.

  • other technical elements such as browser caching, the use of CDNs, your hosting option, the use of redirects and other things you would be better off chatting to a techy friend about than attempting to fix yourself. (Please get in touch if you don't know anyone like this and need a referral.)


A good rule of thumb is to aim for a page load speed of 3 seconds or less, especially if your website is an e-commerce website (if visitors can buy products or book your services online directly from your website). When your visitor can access the information they are looking for quickly, they will be less likely to close your site before interacting with its content.


2. Add something that encourages visitors to interact with the page.

As discussed above, not all your pages are created with the idea of getting your audience to engage with the page. Your blog pages, for example, are generally aimed at content consumption whereas pages such as your product pages or your contact us page are aimed at getting the visitor to do something. We have also covered, however, that your website bounce rate gives search engines an idea of the kind of customer experience that your site offers and the relevancy of your site in terms of certain keywords. So, for example, if you offer portrait photography as a service and would like to appear as an option on the search engine results page (SERP - some more jargon there for you) when someone searches for portrait photographers, your chances of that happening relies, to an extent, on your bounce rate. Search engines, like Google, look at your bounce rate for your page about your portrait photography, sees that visitors don't spend lots of time there and rarely interact with your page, and come to the conclusion that your page isn't really relevant to someone searching for portrait photography, and you end up not showing up. Granted, this is a VERY simplified way of explaining what happens, but the idea I'm trying to relay is that a balance needs to be struck between those pages you accept as having a high bounce rate and those that you do something about.


So, for pages that do not already have an element that encourages interaction such as a form to complete or a product to purchase, consider adding elements such as accordion dropdowns, sliders with navigation arrows, and related recommended content. There is also something to be said for revisiting your content on the page, but without going into the nuances of writing engaging copy (which is a whole other subject on its own), simply adding elements that guide the visitor as to what to do next, will already help lower your bounce rate.


3. Review the user experience of the page and the elements.

Then maybe, as mentioned above, you do have elements on your website that encourages user engagement. You have a contact form or a "click to read more button", a flip card with a "sign up now", or a PDF downloadable but your page still has a worryingly high bounce rate. In this instance, it's best to review your page layout, content, and user experience (you can also review them in that order). While I'm not going to go into a more in-depth discussion of each of these in this piece, you can have a look at THIS post as a starting point and then get in touch if you would like to discuss the rest. You can also submit a request for a post on a specific topic via the contact form on the home page.


As part of reviewing your user experience, it’s also worth looking for technical errors that might be impacting your visitor’s experience on the website. Are you sure your contact form is working? Are you sure your checkout process is loading properly? Are you sure all your links are working on your page? Are you sure your page is loading and not displaying an error message? You can usually spot these by looking at your bounce rate trend. If you see one of your pages with an unusually high bounce rate without external factors that could affect it (like a paid advertising campaign), that’s usually a sign that something technical is at fault.


4. Review your audience targeting for paid advertising.

The effect that your paid advertising has on your website depends, to an extent, on your audience segmentation. I covered the concept of segmentation and targeting in the post about remarketing, but as a quick summary, different digital platforms allow you to select who you want to show your paid advertising to. This audience can be selected according to selected criteria that you set and can range from users who have interacted with your brand to users who share similar interests as existing customers and everything in between. Now, generally, the broader your criteria, the higher your page bounce rate will be, because you are effectively showing your paid advertising to users who are higher up the sales funnel. These users are either not really your target market or are not ready to buy. They end up spending less time on your page and also don’t interact with your page. This increases your bounce rate. By narrowing the criteria of your paid advertising audience, you are more likely to reach users who are part of your target market and better yet, more interested in what you have to say and offer.


Conclusion

Understanding and interpreting your bounce rate data is not about understanding if people interact with your page and your website, it's about understanding how. That's why bounce rate benchmarks are interesting to know and good to keep in the back of your mind, but not a target you need to set for yourself. Achieving a bounce rate benchmark does not necessarily mean that your website is effective. Yes, your bounce rate is taken into account when it comes to ranking for certain keywords on search engine results pages, that is why you need to keep it in the back of your mind. Also, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that bounce rates don't matter, I'm saying that your website's ability to help you achieve your business goals needs to be your main concern and your bounce rate can help you better position your website to achieve this.


When looking at your data, start with the pages that matter the most to you and your website goals. As mentioned, while knowing the data for your website as a whole, the true value lies in page-specific information. This is partly because different pages have different purposes, different visitors use pages differently depending on where they are in the sales funnel, and you have limited resources, so the more focussed you can be, the better.


Overall, your question shouldn't be "how can I better my bounce rate", it should be "my website isn't doing what I thought it would, is there something I can learn from my bounce rate that would give me a better indication as to what is wrong with my website?" You then need to use the information gleaned from your data to make the necessary changes to build a website that helps you achieve your goals - not to simply lower your bounce rate.